MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings took the cautious route by ruling All-Pro wide receiver Justin Jefferson out ahead of the game, his seventh straight game on the sideline with a strained hamstring.
For the first time during his absence, the 2022 NFL Offensive Player of the Year was badly missed.
Joshua Dobbs threw four interceptions as the Vikings had just 242 total yards in a 12-10 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday night. After listing Jefferson as questionable on the final scheduled injury report for the third straight week, he was officially downgraded to out about four hours before kickoff.
Jefferson returned to practice on Nov. 8, but with Minnesota’s bye on the schedule this weekend, the opportunity to give him extra time to heal clearly was appealing. If Jefferson were not activated from injured reserve for some reason by next week, he’d be ineligible to play the rest of the season. The Vikings next play Dec. 10 at Las Vegas.
“He was close tonight,” coach Kevin O'Connell said. “Getting him back, any time you can infuse that into your offense it makes everybody around him better.”
Without the benefit of time with his receivers and with the playbook in training camp, Dobbs has been force-fed his new team after the arrival in an emergency trade following the season-ending injury to Kirk Cousins. This was the most glaring example of his newness — the timing and rhythm with his receivers was off all night. Rookie Jordan Addison was particularly in a rut. He was targeted 10 times but caught just six balls for 39 yards.
Dobbs went 22 for 32 for 185 yards and the go-ahead touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson with 5:54 remaining, but the damage was done over the first 80% of the game. The Vikings had only two drives that netted more than 30 yards.
“They just wouldn’t let Josh’s athleticism get started on any of that stuff,” O’Connell said. “They kept him contained in there pretty good.”
After a remarkable run of turnovers in the first quarter of the season, the Vikings temporarily slowed their crushing bleed. Now the problem is back, with seven giveaways in the last two games they've lost by a total of three points.
“We definitely have what it takes. We've just got to fix our self-inflicted wounds,” said wide receiver K.J. Osborn.
Their two lowest yardage totals of the season have both come against the Bears. The main difference from the 19-13 win at Chicago on Oct. 15, their first game without Jefferson, was they had a defensive touchdown and forced Justin Fields out in the third quarter with a dislocated thumb in the first matchup.
The performance directed by defensive coordinator Brian Flores was even better this time, just lacking that trip to the end zone.
“Credit Flo and his guys once again for keeping us in a football game we had no right being in,” O'Connell said, “with how poor we played on offense with the turnovers.”